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February 24, 2019 - March 2, 2019

When People Fake Their Credentials to Teach English, Life Gets Messy

 

            I still can’t figure out what the novel has done to deserve banishment from my school district. Maybe it overburdened the other English teachers with its depth and complexity, its characterizations and shifting perspectives. The flashbacks and foreshadows, the genres and vocabulary, the sometimes inverted syntax and literary expressions, certainly the bizarre themes, confusing allusions to other novels and essays, poems and events, the profundity of streams of consciousness, all of these excursions into intellectualism and philosophy tangle into a cavalcade of high expectations, and no one wants high expectations because that means you have to work extremely hard and maybe make a couple of mistakes.

            This isn’t to say that someone that studies psychology or sociology can’t teach English, but it certainly helps if you have a degree in the subject; and if you don’t, then you should be willing to spend the time in a program that can help you fill in the knowledge gaps. Just because you can speak English doesn’t mean you know the subject. While the name English suggests just teaching the language, nothing more could be further from the truth. In fact, English is not about simply teaching the language at all. It is, in fact, an entire subject in its own right. Students that college major in the field of English have a wide range of opportunities: law enforcement, analysts, attorneys, teachers, copy-editors, publishers, writers, and politics. Sadly, the teaching of English has taken a real hit in some states as alternative certification programs allow people with little or no subject area knowledge go ahead and take the super-easy, low-level, examination. This means that English departments can be filled with people who carry no real knowledge of the subject and zero understanding of why certain concepts must be taught in the classroom.

            But even worse, what if someone that has read the novels and experienced the joy of analytical writing and thinking is willing to deny this to students for years on end in order to sanctify some kind of hatred for the subject and the people that teach it? That person, no matter how pretty and articulate, accomplished and convincing, is a quack and should instantly be shown the door. Quackery, in the world of high-stakes standardized testing and accountability, is not something we can tolerate. Quackery in the age of disinformation, the age of  hate in collusion with tyranny, denies our students the weaponry needed for self-protection against racism, sexism, and gender bias. Standing at a podium reading from an African American text is nothing but tokenism, especially if you deny your students an opportunity to communally read and analyze the texts of our best: Maya Angelou, Nella Larson, Zora Neal Hurston, Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison, and Toni Morrison, to name only a few. The refusal to bend and learn, the forays into low rigor little exercises with no meaning or illumination has resulted in students who, by the tenth-grade, have never read a novel from cover to cover. These students cannot cite from anything profound, unless it’s something they pulled from the middle of a text, or “God forbid” from some “out of context” excerpt. They are not "well-read," and they are not readers.

    So what now? We have a school system filled with students that have no one to show them the point of true literacy, but we keep teaching to the test. When we go to our meetings, we only look at test prep, even if looking at test prep at that time is a gross waste of time. We keep ordering independent reading books and giving them away to students that pull little quotes from them and write in little reading logs, but we can't be critics or experts on five-thousand different versions of the teenage vampire story, or five-thousand different versions of the teen romance. Meanwhile, we overlook the literature that does fit into the classroom, the literature that students must read and should remember and discuss when they go to college. Literature (not necessarily even canonized) provides background knowledge and a window into history and the human condition. The classroom novel is a rite of passage, a way to build a classroom community of writers and thinkers. We are denying this to our students because we have no one at the top to lead us into something better. We have someone at the top that thinks the word "novel" must be printed directly into the curriculum when there is nothing in the standards that can't be taught with a novel. The idea that I need to write this, that I need to fight this fight for my students is ridiculous and absurd. 

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